“We are working on really important social problems,” Axon CEO Rick Smith said in an interview. “We do have a responsibility to do it right.”
The centerpiece of Axon’s latest features is its “Priority-Ranked Video Audit” software, which the company says helps supervisors sift through the thousands of hours of body cam footage many of them receive on a weekly basis to zero in on potential abuses of power.
The software uses an artificial intelligence algorithm that identifies keywords, such as profanity, racial slurs or other red flags. Axon Chief Product Officer Jeff Kunins says the video audit system helps solves one of the major issues police supervisors face in actually catching officer misbehavior.
“The amount of footage is so overwhelmingly large, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Kunins said.
Axon has also designed a “Use-of-Force Dashboard,” which creates interactive reports on incidents in which a department’s officers have forcibly restrained suspects.
“All of these [new features] are means that would enable a department to be taking a much more proactive role in having data in their hands to see how their officers are behaving in a wide variety of circumstances and being able to drive changes to policy,” he said.
“If we’re going to actually get younger police officers to challenge a senior officer when he’s crossed the line, that is going to require some intensive training,” Smith said. “The intensity of what we can do in VR is going to be part of the shift that if you see somebody cross the line, it doesn’t matter how old they are or how senior. They can take your livelihood in addition to the life of the person they’re abusing.”
Questions over body cams
“That doesn’t mean these problems are going to go away overnight,” he said. “I’m not aware of any civil rights group saying we don’t want body cameras. They want them to be used and released more consistently.”
Even as the technology improves, there are questions among law-enforcement experts over how much body cameras improve officer accountability. Additional surveillance doesn’t ensure convictions or even charges when police are the suspects, notes Bowling Green State University professor Phillip Stinson, who studies police criminality.
“Whereas we thought body cams were going to solve a lot of problems, it just hasn’t worked out that way so far,” Stinson told CNN Business.
Chicago activist Bertha Purnell, founder of the anti-gun violence group Mothers on a Mission, is one of the community leaders Axon has tapped for insight on its latest tech offerings. She says the new features will help improve police transparency, but it only works when departments commit to releasing footage to the public in a timely manner.
“What’s the sense in having it if you’re not going to let it be seen?” Purnell said.